On involvement of schools in political activities

​There are several lessons to take away from the recent anti-Marcos burial protests. I’d like here to focus on the involvement of the universities.

But, first, definitions. When we say ‘University of the Philippines’, it must be understood to mean as the corporation which is a separate and distinct entity from the faculty, studentry, etc. The corporation, under the law, is represented by it’s Board. In UP, by the Board of Regents chaired by the Chairperson of CHED.

Also, policies. Related are, (a) that University of the Philippines (Republic Act 9500) is a State funded national university, (b) it is tax exempt, due to it having been established for charitable or educational purposes, and (c) prohibition of partisan political activity by government agencies, SUCs, civil servants as found in EO 292 (Sec. 55), RA 7160, and Omnibus Election Code.

Based on the above applicable definitions and policies, the UP faculty and students who went out on the streets actually did so in their individual capacities, as private individuals. They are not ‘University of the Philippines’, the corporation or organization because only the Board could represent it (and even if they wanted to, they are prohibited under law).

But what happened was, the faculty and students did not distinguish themselves and their actions as separate and distinct from the ‘University of the Philippines’. They failed to provide the necessary disclaimer. They have even utilized the University’s/corporation’s assets- buildings, statues (essentially paid for by the Filipino people) for their protest despite the University having it’s applicable policies such as in the usage of IT resources.

That was not the first time it happened because to Filipinos, ‘University of the Philippines’ the corporation or organization is equated to left-leaning anti-government activists ie. students and faculty such that many concerned parents would rather not send their children to the University if they can help it. This is a misrepresentation of the corporation, a misnomer that unfortunately got stuck in people’s minds.

But anybody who has read RA 9500 will know that the University was not established to be anti-government nor symphatetic to just one ideology. In fact, the law says it is a partner of Government. Are State funds being used against itself? Why nobody from the corporation, it’s Board of Regents, or the Government ie. Congress has pointed this out or conducted an audit is confounding.

Second, tax exemption which not only applies to UP, being an SUC, but also to the private universities. The law has provided this special exemption to the extent that the activities of these institutions are for charitable or educational purposes. Once they engage in activities outside these as for example secular politics the exemption can be forfeited. Then they have to pay taxes as any political organization does. Hence university Boards via management take care that political activities ncluding beliefs of faculty, students, unions, volunteers, etc. are not taken as the university’s and that there are school policies covering such.

These ethical and legal considerations not only extend to this country’s educational institutions. These are standards across the world.

Why so? For one, the individual’s right to vote, political affiliation, or any other individual rights cannot be unduly influenced and owned by institutions (schools, the church, etc). That would be violation of liberty. The public school, especially the public university, is a place for all young people, regardless of beliefs, seeking knowledge and enrichment in which such knowledge is gained through collegial engagement with others who are not necessarily on your side of the argument. By this, knowledge grows in the way it must, benefiting everybody, society. When the school unduly directs it’s population toward just one aspect of a story, it becomes just another oppressive narrow minded place.

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